How to Have a Successful
Working at home. It’s the ideal American dream. There are so many benefits …
You can earn a very good living without a daily commute …
You can work in your pajamas and bare feet, if that’s what you want to do …
When that movie you’ve been looking forward to comes out, you can go see a matinee and avoid the crowds …
You can turn your music up loud and dance like a wild thing, if that’s what gets your creative juices flowing …
You can be there to greet your kids when they come home from school … catch up with your friends over coffee in the middle of the day … and never get behind on the laundry again.
Working at home can be everything you want it to be …
Until you realize working at home means you have kids under foot, household chores that are never “out of sight, out of mind,” friends and family who don’t quite “get it” that you actually have work to do. Oh … and no boss or coworkers whose very presence helps to keep you on track.
But there is a little-known way you can do all of these things while still getting your work done.
The secret is discipline.
Fortunately, developing discipline isn’t as hard as you might think. Even better, you can trick yourself into being disciplined by developing a few helpful, positive habits.
Before we get to the habits, though, let’s talk about your work environment.
Set Up a Designated Workspace
With today’s technology, you can work from anywhere. You can work out on your deck … in the breakfast nook … in front of the fireplace … at the library … or at the local coffee shop. And, if you don’t need access to the Internet, you have even more options.
You’re not tied to your desk, and that’s a great thing. But you should still have a workspace. And I recommend you start out each day working from that space.
When you do, two things will happen. Sitting down to your workspace will become a trigger. It will quickly get you into the mindset of, “Now is the time to work.” It will also get your family used to the notion that you have work to do, and when you’re in your workspace, that’s what you’re doing.
This doesn’t mean you can’t spend time working in all those other wonderful spaces. It just means you’ll have a go-to space you can retreat to, if you need it … and your mindset will be primed for productivity when you get there.
Post Your Work Hours
Think about your average day. What are the hours when you do your best work? What are your other commitments during the day? Based on the answers, establish a daily work schedule, and then post your hours above your desk. If your schedule or commitments change week to week, you can update your posted hours weekly or even daily.
This is another trick that serves a dual purpose. Your family can see your working hours, and they’ll realize they should hold their interruptions until a better time. And, it serves as a reminder to you when you’re working and when you’re not working (which is just as important!).
Have a Do-Not-Disturb Signal
I have a scarf I wear when I really want to get into the writing zone and when interruptions would likely be extra-annoying.
If I’m wearing the scarf, it signals my kids to take questions to their dad instead of me. And it signals my husband to hold off on starting a new conversation with me.
Just make sure you’re not always in do-not-disturb mode, otherwise the signal loses its impact.
Okay, so you’ve got a go-to workspace ,and you’ve done what you can to cut down on interruptions … at least from your family.
The next step toward doing great work at home is to develop a few easy habits that will put you in a prime headspace for both creativity and productivity.
Easy Habit #1: Put the House in Order the Night Before
We all like to have a home that’s clean and inviting. When you work outside your home, you can put it in order and come home to a clean house. That’s less true when you work at home, because you’re actively living in your home all the time. Which means more opportunity to make little messes.
The second you’re working on a project and you hit a moment of resistance or uncertainty, all those little messes will become easy distractions. After all, you feel productive when you’re cleaning up, and you find it hard to focus when you know there are dishes on the counter … and, and, and …
This avoidance-by-cleaning phenomenon is something I’ve heard about from more writers than I can count. So, eliminate the temptation.
In the evening, after dinner, enlist the whole family to spend 20 to 30 minutes together tidying up the house. Make sure dishes get done, things get put away, and that you dust or sweep the floor or rotate the laundry … whatever you need to do to put your house in a state that won’t pull you away from your work the next day.
Then during the day, when you take a break to make yourself a snack or to work out, take five minutes to tidy up when you’re done. Do this consistently and you won’t be able to turn to cleaning when you want to avoid work, because things will already be neat and tidy.
Easy Habit #2: Get Dressed for Work … Most Days
Yes, one of the fun things about working from home is being able to work in your pajamas. And yes, I am barefoot as I write this. But as a writer, you want to present yourself as a professional. And that starts with looking like a professional in your own eyes.
So, most days, get dressed for work. You don’t have to be fancy, just presentable. Imagine you have a Skype call scheduled, and make sure you look ready for that, and you’ll be good to go.
If you really feel like you’re missing out, not working in your jammies, make your casual Friday into a pajama day and enjoy the best of both worlds.
Easy Habit #3: Take Breaks
When you work full-time for someone else, you get at least two 10-minute breaks and a half-hour for lunch. Treat yourself at least that well when you work at home.
It’s even better if you base your breaks on your ideal focus time — that’s how long you can really focus before you start to get antsy or your eyes start to glaze over. (For me, it’s 45 minutes.) Work for that amount of time and then take a quick five-minute break to do something physical, spiritual, or fun.
You could do a quick Tabata workout. You could sit and breathe deeply for five minutes. You could hula hoop or dance or read poetry or catch up on Facebook. Whatever. Just do something that refreshes you — and keep it to just five minutes.
Then work for another block. And repeat.
Easy Habit #4: Develop a Morning Routine That Primes You for Work
It’s tempting — so tempting — when you work from home to grab a mug of coffee as soon as you wake up and head straight to your desk. After all, you have things to do, so you might as well get started.
I’ve found my day goes much better in terms of productivity and creativity if I take some time with my family and to myself in the morning. I chat with my girls as I help them get ready for school and then I spend some time stretching before I get into my workday. When I do this, I’m really awake and at my best when I start writing.
Easy Habit #5: Have a Close-of-Day Routine
Just like you want to prime yourself for work time, you also want to give yourself clear signals that work is done for the day and you can relax and have a little fun without work worries cluttering your mind.
A close-of-day routine can be simple. Look through your email one last time. Close out the programs on your computer (especially important if you use your computer for leisure activities, too). Tidy up your desk. And finish up by making your to-do list for the next day.
Make Sure You’ve Got the Dream Part in the Mix
One of the biggest frustrations web writers have, once they’ve developed a steady influx of work, is that they’re always busy with work.
The reason you want to be a freelancer, in part, is because it gives you more time to focus on the things you love. It’s important not to lose sight of that. Be sure to schedule time for fun things during each day.
Make time to do things with friends and family. And, when you take days off — whether that’s on the weekend or during the week — make sure you indulge in whatever relaxes or excites you.
Follow these five habits and you’ll find it really is possible to work from home without giving up your work-life balance.
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